Once you start to look for something, it seems you find it hidden in all kinds of places. At least that has been my experience with sugar. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning….
The Early Years
For the first few years of my life, my family shopped exclusively at places like Whole Foods. My mom bought and cooked us fresh, whole food. We also had to drink the *dreaded* freshly juiced carrot juice every morning. And I won’t even talk about Barley Green….the horror.
I don’t think I really tasted a ton of processed food or much processed sugar in my early childhood. But I remember one time heading to Wisconsin on vacation. We stopped at a gas station, and I saw a Twinkie. Somewhere along the way (TV or friends), I had heard about these delicious magical treats! I just had to have one. After much begging, I got a Twinkie. After the first bite, I realized all the hype was for nothing. It was disgusting.
I switched from homeschooling to public school right in the middle of 5th grade and all of the sudden everything changed. Not only was my life different socially, but I was exposed to all kinds of new and sugary foods. I am ashamed to admit that a common “lunch” for me in junior high was a small bag of SunChips and as many Zebra Cakes as I could afford with the quarters I had in my pocket. I was hooked. Sugar for breakfast, for snacks, for lunch, for more snacks, dessert after dinner, and even more snacks before bed.
There was a small convenient store near my house, and my siblings and I loved to visit. We would pool our change and go see how much candy we could buy. It was right around the corner, so we would walk there and then run home, already digging into our sweet stash.
It’s a miracle I was never overweight. I always knew sugar was bad for me in theory, but never paid much attention to how that might play out in real life, in my own body. I lived an active lifestyle while I grew up – skateboarding with friends (my “trying to be cool” phase), walking around town or to friend’s houses, track and field for 8 years, and regularly riding horses. I think that was part of why I never experienced too many side effects from my poor diet.
Or maybe not.
Looking back, I can see a few chronic physical issues I had, but they were just a part of life to me. I never made the connection to my diet. And my doctors didn’t really help that much. They didn’t teach me about nutrition or how to prevent things like diarrhea, constipation, chronic digestive issues, skin inflammation, etc. I don’t blame them; it’s just a fact. When I complained of stomach pains, I was given pain medication and sent home. I just came to accept the fact that I may always need to be in the vicinity of a bathroom at various times throughout the day. My digestive system was unpredictable, and I never could tell what exactly would upset it.
Fast forward to age 22. I just got married and my husband is realizing how much sugar I consume on a daily basis. I don’t think he’s ever met someone addicted to sugar, but neither of us called it an addiction at that point. It’s something I feel shame about, so when he brings it up, I get defensive and upset. A few years later, something clicks in my brain.
I am addicted to sugar.
Wow, that sounds so lame! It’s not like it’s cocaine or gambling or nicotine. (I will soon learn how wrong I am). During this period of revelation, I realized all my behaviors were like that of an addict. I denied or got defensive when my sugar consumption was noticed by someone close to me. I hid how much sugar I was eating (was that the original package of Oreo’s on the shelf or a new one?). I minimized the importance of sugar to me – “What, it’s just ONE cookie!” I brought my own stash on vacations and trips – often sneaking up to our room to have a quick bite of chocolate or something sweet.
I had never taken time to examine how much sugar I was eating. Once I started thinking about it, I was kind of surprised. I had juice or sweet tea with lunch and dinner, plus dessert with both meals. I had sugary cereal or other sweet options for breakfast. I snacked often, on cookies, candy, and other processed foods. And then once I started doing research, I realized I was eating so much more sugar than I ever realized. Sugar is in everything — bread, baby food, salad dressing — even where there is no need for sugar or sweetness. It was hard to find a single thing I was eating that didn’t have sugar in it in some form except for the obvious, like fresh vegetables. And who eats a lot of those, anyway? Not me.
This revelation and subsequent dive into research led me to conduct an experiment. I felt genuinely convicted about the damage I was possibly doing to my body, and no one likes to realize they’re an addict. So after much research, I decided to go “sugar free” for 6 months.
I wrote my husband a note and gave it to him as an early birthday present. I knew cutting sugar out of my diet and starting to seek out a healthier lifestyle would mean more to him than any gift money could buy. (He’s the best like that). So in May of 2014, I quit sugar. I had no clue how my experiment was going to change my life.
(Read about my 6 month experiment).